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It’s in our interests to step up support for our region

While attention has been focused on the challenges of managing the rise of China, a humanitarian and economic disaster playing out on our doorstep in south-east Asia could prove just as important.

The COVID-19 pandemic is raging out of control in key countries in the region, especially Indonesia and India. The lack of adequate testing and weak health services there make it hard to know the exact number of cases and deaths, but on one estimate, Indonesia has about 1 million people who have been infected.

The burden of lockdowns and treating the sick is laying waste to economies, especially those in places heavily dependent on tourism, such as Thailand, Bali and the Pacific islands.

The suffering is undermining popular faith in governments and could send the cause of democracy back in many countries. Some democracies have mangled their response, while Vietnam, an authoritarian communist state, has until now been a standout success among developing countries in controlling the disease.

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